In 1875, The East Tennessee General Association of Baptist Churches appointed the late Rev. John Rogers, affectionately known as Uncle Jack, to organize churches in what is now known as the Mechanicsville community. Uncle Jack accepted the appointment. To begin his mission he introduced group prayer meetings to area residents. The meetings were a success, and when it was obvious they had outgrown their usual meeting place (which was the home of Abram Jones on Leslie Street) there was demand and support for an organized Baptist Church, for which Uncle Jack undertook the task of organizing.
On September 24, 1882, after much prayer and planning, Uncle Jack completed the organization of Little Zion Baptist Church (which was later renamed Rogers Memorial Baptist Church), but there was no church house. Church officers were Deacons Abram Jones, Thomas Absher, and H. A. Grisham, and its great booster was Uncle Dennis Hall. After Little Zion’s successful organization, the membership decided it needed a church house because the congregation was growing at a rapid pace. A location committee was appointed and Cansler Street was the agreed upon site in spite of being very unattractive (in the front was a large red-slate rock that stood several feet above the level of the lot and in back was a hole 10 or more feet deep). The lot was purchased for $250 cash, and Uncle Jack was the chief architect and builder. After construction, Little Zion Baptist Church was dedicated to God in an all day service, which included much singing, shouting, and praising of God because the prayers of many had been answered. Before the building was occupied, a strong wind blew the super structure off its foundation. There is no doubt that some people would have been discouraged, but not Rev. Rogers and Little Zion’s people. The next morning they were back on the job salvaging materials to rebuild. Rev. Rogers did not disdain small gifts—in fact he accepted everything from a nail to a brick to a piece of lumber. He encouraged the children to take little buckets and go to buildings being erected and pick up the dropped nails, and the bent ones, and bring them to him to be sorted and straightened. Rev. Rogers set an example of frugality by carrying most of the lumber used in the building on his back from a lumber yard. After a short time, Rev. John “Uncle Jack” Rogers became the pastor of Little Zion Baptist Church.
Uncle Dennis Hall was a great booster for the new church. He was very quaint and picturesque. He was a very aged man with snow white hair. He drove a dilapidated cart with a small female burro to pull it about. When he came to church, Uncle Dennis dusted off his tall, shiny beaver-plug hat and strutted forth. With his “churn-cart and jenny” he was a great sight. An enterprising whiskey drummer once took a picture of Uncle Dennis and his outfit and had it copyrighted. It became the trademark of one of Kentucky’s largest distilleries to this day under the slogan She Was Formed in Old Kentucky.
Deacon U. S. Clark served as superintendent of the Sunday School of more than 20 years, up to the time of his death in December 1938. In the spring of 1929, a survey and Sunday School drive were put on with great success. A house-to-house and street-to-street canvass was made to encourage Sunday School attendance. One beautiful morning in June, the attendance exceeded the 400 mark. Rev. E. M. Seymour was the beloved teacher of a class of young men in the Sunday School and many now scattered throughout the United States had their lives shaped by his teaching.
In 1959 during the administration of Rev. L. A. Alexander, the old church building was converted into a youth center. He believed that the young people of the church and the community would be greatly benefited by supervised recreation. Rev. Alexander stated, “Christian attitudes toward everything in life will be the main point of interest in the Youth Center.” He worked untiringly, believing that one deed done today is worth two done tomorrow. Great emphasis was put on the importance of working more with young people because they would soon become members and officers of our future church. Rev. Alexander sincerely believed that with God in front, a church must continue to work for the up building of God’s Kingdom.
Rev. B. G. Ragsdale assumed the pastorate of Rogers Memorial in 1961 and served until the summer of 1993. Quietly and successfully, he worked with the officials and the membership. His loving leadership exemplified his deep concern for the well being of others. “Untiringly, he led us; unselfishly, he has served us; and with unfaltering faith in God, he has nurtured our spiritual needs.” One of his fondest hopes—that we would liquidate the debt on the L. A. Alexander Educational Building—was realized during the celebration of the church anniversary in September 1994. Upon the celebration of Rev. Ragsdale’s retirement, he was named Pastor Emeritus of Rogers Memorial and a scholarship fund was established in his name.
Approximately one year after the Pulpit Search Committee was elected by the church to find qualified candidates for the pulpit, the Deacon Board met on June 2, 1994 to review information on the two finalists presented to them by the committee. The board was united in acknowledging that the Pulpit Committee had done an excellent job. Deacon Garfield Hardin stated that the committee had “left no stone unturned” during the search process, and the entire board was forever thankful for a job well done. After careful review, discussion and prayer, the board was united in its decision to recommend that Reverend Michel S. E. Caldwell be presented to the church membership to vote “yes” or “no” on calling him as the next pastor.
The board then set forth a special committee of deacons and trustees to make preliminary contact with Rev. Caldwell and the other finalist to see what it would take (pending a vote of the church) for either one to accept the job. The deacons did this because they did not want a situation with the church voting to call a pastor, and they not being able to come to terms with him on a total package. For reasons known only to God, Rev. Caldwell was the only candidate who made a solid commitment to the terms that had been set forth. The Deacon’s Board’s united faith and wisdom proved to be true, for in the weeks following the church vote to extend the call of Rev. Caldwell by an overwhelming majority.
Rev. Michel S. E. Caldwell began serving on August 21, 1994.